Kate McQuillen greets me from the driveway of her charming and noteworthy Greenpoint house, directing me into the garage where her fluorescent printmaking studio is set up. Her companion Kassie, a sterling herding dog, is attentively surveying the area and happy to have another to look after. The inherent New York City ankle weights have already slipped away, leaving us to speak candidly in Kate’s kaleidoscopic space. While we talk, the garage door remains open and Kate periodically greets her neighbors passing by. I feel as if I have crossed a portal into an alternate dimension, or at least am no longer in the city.
Greenpointers: When were you first exposed to art as a child?
Kate McQuillen: My dad studied painting in graduate school, and during my childhood worked as a graphic designer in Boston. We always had an art studio in the house, which allowed me the opportunity to experiment with literal cut and paste tools like transfer paper. I’d imagine this is what initially pushed me into printmaking. I think of printmaking processes as the perfect place between design tools and fine art tools. I always had a lot of interest in drawing, but was never super into oil paint. I think my new work is taking on a form reminiscent of paintings, but I can still use the printmaking tools I’ve grown to know and love.
Kate graduated from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Printmaking in 2002, later studying for her Master’s in Printmedia from York University in Toronto in 2009. Kate moved to Chicago and continued to grow her printmaking portfolio, while working at a gig poster shop, printing posters for bands.
GP: During your time in Chicago your printmaking remained mainly representational and monochromatic. How did working at the gig poster shop influence you as an artist?
KM: At the poster shop we printed material for different jam bands. I was never really into the music, but got excited about all the psychedelic colors. I worked as a Pantone color matcher and learned all about overlapping colors. Matching colors on paper to the ones you see on a monitor is nearly impossible since paper is absorbing the light you see. The closest answer to matching these colors was some sort of fluorescence. I would try to create and organize colors that would make your eyes pop. We would joke around about “which color melts your face the most”. In my art, I used to explore the range of values in a monochromatic palate, and use them as a subtle shift within an image. I have recently transferred that into color. A lot of my pieces boil down to three or four colors. When the color works at its best it gives me a shift in tones that begin to indicate space and volume, even though the pieces themselves are two-dimensional.
Kate moved to Brooklyn in late 2016 where she began creating a new body of ethereal work based on the Astral Plane. This series is being exhibited at a solo show at Goldfinch Gallery in Chicago on August 27th.
GP: Tell me about your shift to non-objective work and the Astral Plane.
KM: While in Chicago, my work was more political. Towards the end of my time there I created a piece called Night House which was the link from my old work to the new colorful body I’ve been working on. Night House is a three-dimensional exterior house installation where I cloaked a house in panels of stars. This piece is about bringing the heavens down to earth and channeling a mental space that transcends physical reality. My current body of work progressed from that same idea. The work initially took on a more representational form, but has continued into an abstraction. It is all about the Astral Plane, an intangible place between heaven and earth where you pass through and the body and mind separate. My upcoming show title, Meet Me on the Astral Plane, comes from a Jonathan Richman song about meeting someone on the Astral Plane if you can’t be with them in person. This described where I was in the last year with the uncertainties of moving to a new city and other major life changes, while trying to search for something concrete that wasn’t there. The non-physical relationships of the work allow me to explore the emotional impact of elemental qualities such as light, electricity, and atmosphere that act as portals into different spaces.
GP: Can you tell me a little more about your choice of shapes?
KM: I am interested in relating fundamental forms like triangles, diamonds, and circles that have an inherent understanding to ideas of abstraction. My printmaking process allows me to create shapes that are somewhat defined, but mostly fluid and free-flowing. There is a lot of directionality within the work where the shapes almost seem to be “passing through” the virtual spaces. I want something about the shapes to feel familiar, but at the same time appearing ethereal and other worldly.
GP: Are you influenced by any contemporary artists and their color palates?
KM: Two artists come to mind. Jeffrey Dell is a screen printer I’ve always looked up to. Matthew Ronay’s sculptures also come to mind. His palate is more saturated than mine, but we both work with some pretty intense colors. I’m interested in the intuitiveness of his imagery, and the reference to the body through simple forms and shapes.
GP: What are some limitations in your printmaking process, and how do you overcome them?
KM: I’m always wanting to make larger work, but am sometimes bound by the sizes of my screens. I’m working on registration techniques to make larger prints by overlapping multiple screens at once. I think technical boundaries are ultimately a good thing, as they force you to find innovative solutions that can sometimes end up changing the work entirely. In classical printmaking, you are bound to lots of rules. In my revised form, I get to work intuitively and make decisions on the fly. This contributes a lot to how the work appears more like a brushless painting than a print.
GP: What are three things you are loving right now?
- Listening to artist podcasts like The Conversation, Sound and Vision, and Deep Color. I always like to learn about new art, and this is a way to also hear about the unique stories and experiences behind the work. I was recently interviewed on The Conversation about some major life changes before moving to New York if you are interested in checking it out!
- Spending the day checking out tiny new galleries popping up around Chinatown.
- Hein Koh’s sculptures. Just wow.